Neil Lennon wants to use Europa League games to give Celtic fringe-players more minutes

By David Walton

November 29, 2020

Neil Lennon looks set to use the remaining Europa League fixtures to give more fringe players further game-time after being officially eliminated from the competition.

Celtic cannot now progress from their Europa League group after picking up only one point in their first four games in the competition. Celtic have lost to AC Milan and Sparta Prague (x2), whilst they failed to hold on to a two-goal lead in Lille earlier in the group stage.

The early elimination is a dark contrast to last season, when Celtic had actually progressed to the last-32 by this stage before going on to top the group. This time around, finishing bottom seems inevitable.

But Lennon has admitted that he could give opportunities to those not currently part of what’s considered our strongest XI, and it’s a move that would almost certainly keep fans interested.

Speaking in the build-up to Celtic-Ross County today, Lennon said as quoted by the Daily Record: “I’m looking forward to it as we’re starting our defence of the League Cup. It would be good to win the game and win it well and take it from there.

“We’ve got a big month coming up. This isn’t terminal by any means. Europe is over now. We need to look at the domestic games.

“The other two Europa League games will maybe give me a chance to freshen things up and get players some games.”

Still plenty of pride to play for

There’s something about the Europa League fixture list between now and the end of the group stage that’s difficult to shake off as glorified friendlies.

After all, we’re talking about a trip to the San Siro followed by Ligue 1 heavyweights Lille coming to Celtic Park. You just can’t take those games lightly, and two more humiliations do nothing for the confidence or reputation of the club abroad.

These things matter. But at the same time that doesn’t mean that Lennon needs to go with the perceived strongest XI. Why bother? All they’ve done in Europe this season is provide us with embarrassment after embarrassment (Lille game notwithstanding).

Neil Lennon at Celtic training / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

By Lennon’s comments here, that could mean we’re about to see the likes of Hatem Elhamed, David Turnbull, Ismaila Soro, and Patryk Klimala given chances of some sort in two of our most high-profile matches. These are the players who desperately need more minutes considering they’ve largely been frozen out by the manager.

And this is a smart decision in terms of fan interest in the games too. Sure, there’s an intrigue to matches against Milan and Lille that are always going to attract you to the contest in any case. With no pressure on the club, we all want to see if we can give the two group favourites a bloody nose.

But add that with the fact we could see some of the fringe players that supporters are crying out for? Lennon would be adding yet another extra layer of intrigue to the fixtures if he decides to pull that off.

In other news, Celtic will be without one of their key stars thanks to a suspension you may have forgotten about.